Truth’s Children — Luke 4:14-30 2013 02 03
Harry decided to surprise his wife by tidying and dusting the living room while she was having coffee with her friends. In the process he accidentally bumped and broke a vase given to them by her aunt. He spent the next hour running to the store for Crazy Glue and carefully putting it back together. When she got home, she was surprised to see the room clean and tidy, and thanked him. Then she said she and her friends got talking about ugly gifts that they didn’t know what to do with. They decided to watch the horoscopes for a day which warned about the risk of accidents. Then they would all do intense housecleaning, and accidentally break those gifts. She finished by saying her target would be that vase from her aunt, and said, “It’s too bad you didn’t accidentally break that vase while you were cleaning the living room.”
Truth has many forms and shades, some unavoidable, and some we can try to avoid. When the weather report says exposed flesh can freeze in as little as three minutes, and you have frostbite on your nose from spending 10 minutes cleaning off your car, you can say the truth bites. When you had that shot of chest pain while cleaning off the car, you can pretend it was nothing at all for a while. When your child at the age of 4 ignores you and does whatever he feels like, you can pretend he is just going through a phase. When he does the same at age 19, and you get a call from the police station at 3 in the morning, it is harder to keep pretending everything is ok.
Jesus spoke the truth, and it got him into trouble. His neighbours tried to throw him off a cliff. The religious leaders and Roman authorities cooperated in killing him. However, hundreds of millions of people have found comfort, courage, and wisdom in the truth he spoke and lived. And his truth continues to change the world as we gain in understanding of what he said.
Truth has many children. Sometimes they are the persecution experienced by Jesus and his followers. Sometimes it is strained relationships between relatives or neighbours or friends. Corporations in Canada hired criminals to disrupt union activity including beating and killing union leaders, or arranged for criminals to take over some unions who were arguing for justice in the treatment of workers. Communist governments in Russia, China, East Germany, and other countries jailed and killed people who threatened their control. Fascists in Germany and Italy beat or killed many of their opponents. Speaking truth puts lives and well-being at risk. And it has many rewards.
A major reward for many is the inner peace that is found in liking ourselves for doing what is right. Other rewards include the respect of other people. Jesus grew a community around him who appreciated what he said and did, and admired and loved him for whom he was.
Hearing and acting on his truth, we create lives that are richer, more productive and more fulfilling. Choosing forgiveness over resentment has lifted heavy loads from many people. Loving neighbours extends our experiences and connections. Choosing working for right relationships over hoarding wealth and power strengthens our inner and outer well-being. Seeking medical care instead of ignoring troubling symptoms can be life saving, and usually clears away anxiety that can stifle our living. Speaking truth to power sometimes makes lives better for others and ourselves.
Churches have always faced challenges. Acts describes some of them. Paul’s letters were always written in response to issues in those congregations. Many of those congregations were in cities that are now sites for archeologists to explore.
One truth that some churches avoid is the truth that, in God’s world, change is ever-present, and a choice is to change or cease to exist. Some churches have recently gone through painful change and are now doing very well. Many people here were members at one time of churches that closed. The book We Refused to Lead Dying Churches has stories of 15 congregations that successfully changed.
In some stories, new congregations are built within old congregations as the old passes away. In one case, ministry was reshaped to fit the people who were there and the community where it was located. One congregation expanded its ministry outside of its walls. One congregation became the opposite of its community. In a conservative community it deliberately became a welcoming place to everyone not welcomed by the wider community. Some members who were uncomfortable respectfully and quietly left.
In several stories there was intense conflict over the change, but the lay leaders consistently chose faithfulness to God over fear or resentment of change.
We are in a time of change, and are still in the state of emptiness, knowing we will change, but uncertain about what the changes will be. I was asked this week how long I was prepared to stay. I would like to stay 3 to 5 years, and am prepared to do whatever is necessary to work with you through the coming changes. If I am still serving here in 6 or 7 years, I will have failed in my goal of helping you define your new ministry.
My dream is that, by the time I finish as your pastor, there will be at least one if not two or more new congregations in your community. One will be the new congregation you will become on Sunday mornings. I hope one or more congregations connected to you will be worshipping at other times. I am working to build a ministry of small groups, and there should be at least 10 different small groups connected to this congregation within 5 years. I would love to see this sanctuary frequently used for music events. I would like to see the building renamed something like the Killarney Spiritual Development Centre, a place where St. Matthew’s worships along with other congregations and other forms of spiritual development from Kriya Yoga to 12 step groups. And I hope that this congregation will have a major role in at least 2 different ministries in the wider community.
In the church planting and renewal workshop, I heard the first task is to map the assets of a congregation. The greatest asset of this congregation is you with your openness to others, your love and compassion, and your passion for serving God through this church. Jesus read the following passage from Isaiah.
God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
He then said that passage became true in his reading of it. Your openness and love will be key to being bearers of good news in this time and place. The truth is that we are never too young or too old, too rich or too poor to be agents of the fulfilling of his declaration.
Some of you are already doing much, some through the church such as sandwiches for the Drop-In centre and prayer shawls, and the Mission and Service Fund, and others through other agencies. Those involved in Good Companions provide support to Inn from the Cold as well as providing opportunities to reduce the loneliness experienced by some. I suspect many of you volunteer for other charitable organizations, and some of you are providing direct care to people with great needs.
I suspect your capacity to be caring can be multiplied if others can discover how nurturing this congregation can be. I had lunch in Victoria with a person who volunteers in Faith Quest, which is their name for Sunday School, serves on the church board, and is just starting to serve on a presbytery committee, all because of the acceptance and love she received from that congregation. I believe there is the potential for many such people to become part of this congregation.
On the way to creating the change God wants here, not the change that I want, I need you to engage in some truth telling, especially in terms of things that might block others from discovering how loving you are.
First, imagine that you have never been to this church before. Think about your arrival this morning. What would your experience have been if you had never been here before? What would you want to be different? Think about the location, the building, the entrance, this space, and how we worship.
May the Spirit lift your hopes, open your imagination, and brighten your lives as you seek new opportunities for this congregation to serve.